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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Killingbeck CH, CN, FEP

Covid-19 Overview, Nature Care, and Herbal Therapeutics

Updated: Feb 6

COVID-19 Overview

COVID-19 is a new corona virus, like rhinoviruses (common cold) and influenzas. There are similarities between COVID-19 and Influenzas. They are spread in similar ways, they have similar symptoms, both viruses can range from no symptoms to mild and severe cases. Both can lead to serious complications. Where they diverge greatly is with rates of mortality, incubation, and contagion periods. The incubation period for COVID-19 is 2-14 days, whereas the flu is 1-4 days. COVID-19 persons with mild to moderate symptoms seem to remain contagious 6-9.6 days after symptom onset and more severe cases up to 20 days. Influenza and the common cold are contagious mostly prior to and during onset and can be up to two weeks after onset. COVID-19 mortality rate is 3.1% vs. Influenza at 0.1%.


COVID-19 Symptoms:

  • Fever or chills

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Headache

  • New loss of taste or smell

  • Sore throat

  • Congestion or runny nose

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Symptoms last from 10 days to months.

Influenza Symptoms:

  • Fast onset of symptoms

  • Fever and chills

  • Fatigue

  • Sore throat

  • Headache

  • Body aches and pains

  • May have congestion

  • Dry cough

  • Shortness of breath

  • Symptoms last 7-14 days and may linger 3 weeks

Common Cold Symptoms:

  • Symptoms build over 48 hours

  • Runny nose, and watery eyes

  • Stuffy nose and congestion

  • Sneezing and coughing

  • Sore Throat

  • Body aches

  • Malaise

  • Mild headache

  • Symptoms last 3-10 days

Due to such close symptom correlation it is recommended that you get tested as soon as you have symptoms or have knowingly been exposed. As further preauction quarantine yourself from friends and family for at least 14 days from exposure or through the entire time you experience symptoms. If you test positive without symptoms you should still quarantine yourself because you may still be contagious.

Unusual Duration of COVID-19 compared to other corona viruses:

Source : Paul Bergner AHG. MH., Acute Viral Respiratory Infection: Prevention and Therapeutics

  • Mild or moderate illness, about 10 days

  • Symptoms may appear to be gone, then come back vigorously

  • May transition to increased inflammation around day 8-10

  • Some cases that appeared to be over progress to increased inflammation and pneumonia after day 10.

  • Long term COVID can appear after symptoms have ended and you thought you were well.

  • Many cases linger with fatigue and exhaustion for weeks to months.

  • Intermittent low-grade fever is common, chills without a fever is recognized as a COVID-19 symptom.

How viruses work

Viruses cannot replicate except inside a living host cell. They take over the genetic mechanism of the host cell in order to replicate. In a respiratory infection, the infection usually remains within the mucous membranes. Viruses are sensitive to the core temperatures of the body and many even begin to die at temperatures of 98°-99° F. Viruses as well as COVID-19 can create micro droplets (aerosols) from deep in the lungs that have virus particles on the mucus droplets. Viruses are spread through sneezing or coughing into the air and thus are suspended in the air for some time, they then land on other surfaces. In both cases, this is how they can reach another host (person). Some viruses enter via the respiratory route and then they invade the blood stream and infect other organs. Virally infected cells may be killed by T-killer immune cells before releasing their virions (complete virus particles); this is crucial to breaking the cycle of infection from cell to cell.


Prevention of course is key to being safe for you and for others. For COVID-19 wear a mask that covers both your nose and mouth. Wash your hands, sanitize surfaces you come into contact with, wash your clothes and mask, if using a reusable one, after going out around other people. If you choose to wear gloves change them frequently. Social distance by staying 6 feet from others not in your household or your ‘social bubble’. Don’t enter small spaces or rooms like elevators with others if you can avoid it. Outside social interactions are safer. Dining outside with others is safer. Staying at home and avoiding public spaces, if you can do this then do it. Remember to reach out to friends and loved ones via phone or video chats, and practice self-care.

Immune System Support:

Many things contribute to a strong immune system, our level of nutrition and dietary practices; our current state of health and well-being; our lifestyle choices and ability to reduce stress, and complicating factors like chronic inflammation and disease dynamics. However, even the strongest immune system won’t keep us from getting sick. In fact, it is healthy to get colds once a year to keep your immune system in top fighting strength. Since COVID-19 has such a high mortality rate and can cause long-term tissue damage even in mild cases, prevention and minimizing severity is important. An Herbalist’s primary strategy is to support the immune system with nutrition and lifestyle. We use herbal and other therapeutics to support our body’s mechanisms of resistance which can prevent a mild or moderate illness from becoming severe.

Supporting the body through the important symptom phases:

Fever support:

Fever is the body’s way of killing pathogens, when we inhibit this process by reducing our fevers before they have had a chance to do their job naturally, we are encouraging pathogens to multiply, go deeper, and prolong our illness..

There are four stages of a fever

  • Stage 1: Fever rises just above normal. We feel cold, and there is shivering. The pores close to prevent sweating and heat loss. This results in paleness of the skin. Shivering raises the metabolism and generates heat. Therapeutic strategy: Warmth and Rest is needed!

  • Stage 2: 102-104° F is healthy and optimizes antibody production. The skin maybe hot and dry, and the pulse fast. The person is drowsy. Muscle tissue is being broken down to make amino acids available for the immune system and tissue repair use. We feel body aches at this time because of this. Gut functionality decreases and the natural appetite disappears at a temperature of about 99.5° F. Blood concentrations of iron and zinc are lowered, theoretically this is removing a food source that pathogens use. Therapeutic strategy: Drink plenty of fluids, reduce solid food intake.

  • Stage 3: Fever lowers closer toward normal; we feel hot and sweat to reduce our temperature. After a fever peaks it is normal to cycle through stage 2 and 3 periodically and throughout the day. Therapeutic strategy: Rest, fluids, warmth.

  • Stage 4: Recovery period about equal to the length of time of the fever. Therapeutic strategy: Rest is still needed.

Basic levels of fever and their effects on our body:

  • 96.5° F morning to 99° F evening: This is the Normal range. Children may be warmer naturally. Learn your individual normal – it can vary per person.

  • 98°-99° F: Influenza virus dies.

  • 99.5° F: Digestive system stops normal operations.

  • 104° F: Normal temperature may achieve this under intense exercise. Higher range at which most bodily functions are not changed. Kills Gonococcus.

  • 106° F: Upper level for possible seizure activity Normally human body will not go above this. Pneumococcus is killed.

  • 108° F: Brain damage may begin to occur.

  • 110° F: Human cells will begin to die.

Mucous Membrane support:

Your runny nose may be a nuisance, but it is essential to tagging, fighting, and removing pathogens from our body. Mucus is antibiotic paste that surrounds and engulfs pathogens to kill them or wash them away. It also tags the pathogens with antigens if it is a new invader and contains the antibodies of the past to kill the familiar viruses. As long as mucus is thin and flowing it can do its job. This is also why COVID-19 is tested in the nasal passages where the virus is prevalent. Mucous Membranes (MM), line our mouths, throats, lungs, esophagus, stomach, gastrointestinal, urinary, and reproductive tracts. Just as your skin protects your external body, your MM provide protection through its mucus barrier to the inside parts of our bodies that come into contact with the outside world. When we take over the counter medications like cold medications that include decongestants like Pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, Mucinex, etc.; we are stopping the flow of mucus inhibiting our ability to fight pathogens and remove them. By eliminating the mucus and its flow we are removing our protective barrier, inviting the pathogen deeper into our system, and infection into the dry inflamed MM of our sinuses and bronchioles. Expectorants and Demulcents are the better strategy. Keep them moist and flowing.



~When we are sick our bodies need complete Rest and Sleep to fight the pathogens and to heal.

  • Sleep deprivation causes elevated cortisol levels and results in impaired immune function, especially of natural killer (NK) cells, essential to defense against viral infection and cancer. It also increases levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. This was found with even modest sleep deprivation, such as denying sleep during the period from 10 pm to 3 am, or between 3 pm and 7 am. Several nights of 8 to 10 hours of sleep can correct sleep deficit.

~To support a fever you need to warm the body; try warm baths, bundle up with blankets.

~To support the flow of mucus and keep your mucous membranes moist use herbal steams,

~Neti Pot, and a humidifier.

~Herbal Steam

Steam treatments to prevent or treat respiratory infections at onset are common in many cultures. Steam has an expectorant effect, and the high temperature can kill viruses on the surface of the membranes. Steam can deliver volatile constituents directly to infected mucous membranes.

Some variations:

  • Medicate the steam with herbs that have antimicrobial volatile oils.

  • Make a home steam treatment by pouring boiling water into a bowl, placing the herbs (a small handful), in the bowl to steep, covering with a towel, and putting your head underneath the towel for5-20 minutes.

  • Steams with dried thyme, sage, boneset, catnip, or horehound will help sooth a sore throat.

  • Steams with dried Thyme, Yerba Santa, or Gumweed are excellent to help with a cough and support breathing.

  • Essential oils that are antimicrobial can be used, be mindful of the amounts used.

  • Be very careful not to burn yourself.

~Vaporizer/Humidifier with essential oils - Eucalyptus is common because of its well-known decongestant properties.

~Neti Pot or Nasal Rinse:

  • Make a light tea with herbs like thyme, yarrow, or even sage add the salt and rinse. Always add the salt to make saline or it will hurt!

  • Saline alone is also effective.

Incense and Area Cleansing

The aromatic volatile oils in most incense and fumigation (smudging) plants are antimicrobial. They may clear a room of suspended viral particles and may also treat the surfaces of the entire respiratory tract to kill viruses in place there. The oils may also persist in the mucus and have a favorable expectorant effect. Some great ideas are to use the herbs we have discussed here that have volatile (essential) oils. Herbs like thyme, and common sage or rosemary. Resins work as well, frankincense, myrrh, copal etc. Mullein is traditionally used as a medicinal herbal smoke substitute and can be used as an incense. Juniper and other conifers, (needles or berries) are excellent for fumigation and for convalescence.


Avoid Aspirin or NSAID, they may promote an infection!

Aspirin and other pain-killing drugs are inappropriate during a viral infection. Even though they may provide some temporary relief, they suppress the immune system, lower the production of antibodies, and actually prolong the infection.


  • Vitamin D 10,000 IU per day (Minimum 4,000 to 7,000), higher doses may be needed based on deficiencies; Important for immune support and anti-inflammatory

  • Zinc 25 mg: Immune support, wound healing, anti-inflammatory

  • Vitamin A 4,000 to 8,000 IU: Supports Immune function especially in viral infections, Carotenoids: antioxidant, cell communication, and anti-inflammatory

  • Selenium 200 mcg: Prevents damage to DNA and cell membranes, Immune stimulant

  • Vitamin C 500-1000 mg: Immune support, antioxidant, supports healthy blood vessels, anti-inflammatory

  • Vitamin E 100-200 IU: Lung protection, hearth health, circulation support, immune support

  • Omega-3 oil (cod liver oil) 1-3 g combined EPA + DHA: Anti-inflammatory

  • CoQ10: A powerful antioxidant, B-complex-50 and Magnesium can help with neuromuscular communication, body aches, muscle spasm, mood and fatigue. (Supports cell metabolism--Kreb Cycle). Body aches are a sign your body is pulling nourishment (amino acids) stored in the muscles to make antibodies, this is typical during fever or chills as the body turns off digestion and other non-essential bodily functions to focus on killing the pathogen.

Sugar is known to cause additional inflammation and reduce the immune system by 40%.

  • In one study, 3 oz. of sucrose at one sitting reduced the ability of phagocytes to engulf bacteria and other invaders by about 40%. The effect started within ½ hour and lasted more than 5 hours. Another trial showed that only two ounces of glucose suppressed the activity of B- and T-lymphocytes.

  • No Alcohol

  • No Sugar or carbs

  • No Juice or soda

  • Very small amounts of honey in a tea is ok, because it is also antiseptic.

During fever and chills drink liquids only preferably warm.

  • Eating solid food when your digestion is suspended reduces your body’s ability to focus on fighting the invaders.

  • Drink Bone broths, Mushroom broths (Shiitake, Maitake, Reishi), Miso, Nettle, Raspberry leaf, and Nori are good additions.

  • Drink warming diaphoretic teas. (See Below: Herbs for Fever States)

  • Staying hydrated is extremely important during a fever and supporting mucous production in our mucous membranes. Many deeper infections can stem from not doing this. Many of deaths in the 1918 influenza pandemic occurred due to dehydration. When the doctor or your grandma says to drink plenty of fluids they really mean it.

Herbs for Fever States

Oxymels: A combination of honey and vinegar or lemon juice, (herbs opt. Cayenne, Ginger, Cloves, Juniper, Elderberry etc.)

  • Water decoction: place one ounce of an herb in one quart of water. Simmer gently, reducing to a pint and a half. Strain. Add 4 oz. of vinegar and 4 oz. of honey.

Rose Hip Tea with Lemon Balm and Hibiscus

Pine needle tea (steep no more than 15 min, can loosen bowels) very nutritive.

Hot Lemon water with a small amount of honey

Drink warming diaphoretic teas of Ginger, Clove, Bee Balm, Thyme, Yarrow, Feverfew, Lemon Balm, Catnip, Juniper, Boneset, Oregano, Peppermint, or Spearmint. (Diaphoretic: Relaxes the pores, ‘opens the surface’ – and may thus moisten the skin, help release the heat of a high fever, or promote light sweating.) Always pair with demulcents as diaphoretics are drying to the constitution. (Demulcent – Soothing, cooling, moistening, lubricating to the mucous membranes (respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive) and skin).

Add Immune supporting herbs like Echinacea, and Elder

  • Echinacea and Elder are most important in the beginning. Elder is not recommended when infection and high inflammatory states are occurring which you will know is happening because the person will be in the hospital most likely. For example, I continue some echinacea throughout, but I hit hard in the beginning. Echinacea is also anti-inflammatory and wound healing.

  • Garlic and Shiitake are both immune supporting herbs/food, and antibacterial. Both are nutritive an may be used in medicinal broths throughout the illness. Making broths with both is recommended. Onions are also antimicrobial; I notice I do better digestively with onion rather than garlic.

  • Garlic is also antiseptic, heating-immune enhancing alterative, stimulating expectorant, diaphoretic, antioxidant, anticoagulant, vasodilatory, and antihypertensive.

Add Demulcents like Marshmallow, Chia, Rosehips, Hibiscus, Licorice, and Slippery Elm (endangered).

  • Marshmallow and Slippery elm have the added benefits of being immune enhancing/stimulant, anti-tussive (anti-cough), anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and tissue healing. Slippery Elm is endangered due to overuse but if you have Siberian Elm the use of its inner bark is the same and it isn’t endangered. Marshmallow root is easily attainable, and its sister is the Common Mallow root which I am sure everyone digs up as a weed every year. I have a saying in my yard, ‘I don’t weed I harvest.’

  • Rosehips and hibiscus are high in vitamin C and antioxidants which supports the immune system and detox processes of your body to help with elimination of wastes. Which there is a lot since your body is fighting and killing viral pathogens.

  • Licorice is demulcent, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, expectorant, immunomodulatory, hepatoprotective (liver), vulnerary (GI mucosa), antispasmodic, antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiviral.

Based on your Mucus Membrane (MM) condition and situation, always support the flow of mucus with Expectorants and Demulcents. Think of Relaxants and Respiratory Sedatives to help you sleep, and Astringents to tighten and tone MM only if plenty of mucus is present and flowing.

Mucous Membrane Conditions:

  • Hot and Dry Membranes Red, swollen, and Inflamed (possibly stuck mucus, can be caused by cold medications like pseudoephedrine or dehydration): Use Demulcents, and Relaxing Expectorants.

  • Hot and Moist Membranes: (Yellow mucus): Use Stimulating Expectorants, and Astringents.

  • Cold and Dry Membranes no inflammation: Use Demulcents and Relaxing Expectorants. (Can be caused by cold medications like pseudoephedrine or dehydration)

  • Cold and Moist Membranes: (White or Clear mucus): Use Stimulant Expectorants.

Herbs for Mucus Conditions:

Demulcents: Marshmallow, Slippery Elm, Licorice, Rose Hips, Hibiscus

Relaxing Expectorants: Red Clover, Pleurisy Root (known to relieve chest tightness in COVID-19 cases), Elder Flower--can be too drying needs a demulcent with it.

Stimulant Expectorant: Gum Weed, Elecampane, Lovage, Osha (endangered), Horehound (drying pair with demulcent)

Astringents (only when mucus present): Goldenseal (endangered), Yerba Mansa, Horehound, Mullein

Respiratory Sedatives (For the cough that won’t sleep.): Wild Cherry Bark, Thyme

Bronchial Dilators: Mullein, Yerba Santa, Pleurisy Root, Gum Weed, Thyme, Osha (endangered)

Relaxants: Boneset, Elder, Wild Yam, Passionflower, Thyme

  • Boneset also cited in cases as good for every stage of COVID: bitter tonic, mucous membrane relaxant, relaxant diaphoretic, diuretic, lymphatic, immunostimulant/enhancing/modulating, antipyretic, choleretic, large doses are emetic and laxative.

  • Wild Yam is a powerful antispasmodic and could help with cough spasm.

  • Passionflower is also antispasmodic but is also sedative so can help with sleep.

  • Thyme is extremely useful in many ways, it is a relaxant, bronchial dilator, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and has expectorant properties.

Notice that many of the herbs are the same for both mucus membrane health and fever states. Sometimes all you need is Thyme. Simple, sometimes is the best way to go. Try to make it easy on yourself. Use your broths and teas interchangeably. I put medicinal herbs and mushrooms in many of my broths. Please note that I mention which herbs are endangered due to over harvest and the popularity of using only that particular herb. Sustainability is difficult when it is hard to regrow the herb or support the commercial overuse. There are plenty other herbs to use in each category that are easy to regrow or even to grow yourself. But if you have one from the endangered list use it with respect and honor it. Please try to refrain from buying them commercially and only from known sustainable growers.

If having trouble breathing at any point go to the hospital! (If you have a pulse oximeter, the number should be above 90 normal is 94. Pulse oximeters are available at most drug stores)

The Recovery Phase can last as long as the entire time you were sick. Rest and more rest, continuing warming nourishing teas while beginning to eat nourishing foods. It is important to avoid relapse to maintain proper rest and nourishment. Give yourself time to heal.

As with any herbal supplement or therapy check with your doctor especially if pregnant, taking medications, or have any contraindicated compromising disease state that may be a concern.

For individual symptom formulation please contact me through my website or email for an Acute Consultation (done remotely). The individual herbal formulations like cough syrups, oxymels, incense cleansing bundles, teas, tinctures and/or capsules would be delivered to you and are separate from the consultation fee.

My Etsy Page so you can purchase amazing products!

Sources: Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism Acute Conditions Fever, Cold and Flu, Catarrh, Chronic Mucus; Integrative Herbalism Notes Respiratory and Mucous Membrane Materia Medica, Materia Medica Intensive Paul Bergner, Matthew Becker, Linda Whitedove (Respiratory MM), Acute Viral Respiratory Infection: Prevention and Therapeutics Paul Bergner RH (AHG),, North American Institute of Medical Herbalism COVID-19 Shared Case Reviews, American Herbalist Guild Evolving Therapeutic Strategies in the Stages of COVID-19 with Paul Bergner RH (AHG)

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